Calcified Tissue International

, Volume 76, Issue 2, pp 79-89

Ascorbic Acid Deficiency, Iron Overload and Alcohol Abuse Underlie the Severe Osteoporosis in Black African Patients with Hip Fractures — A Bone Histomorphometric Study

  • C. M. SchnitzlerAffiliated withMRC Mineral Metabolism Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand Email author 
  • , E. SchnaidAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, University of the Witwatersrand
  • , A. P. MacPhailAffiliated withMRC Iron and Red Cell Metabolism Research Unit, and Department of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand
  • , J. M. MesquitaAffiliated withMRC Mineral Metabolism Research Unit, University of the WitwatersrandDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, University of the Witwatersrand
  • , H. J. RobsonAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, University of the Witwatersrand

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Osteoporosis and femoral neck fractures (FNF) are uncommon in black Africans although osteoporosis accompanying iron overload (from traditional beer brewed in iron containers) associated with ascorbic acid deficiency (oxidative catabolism by iron) has been described from sub-Saharan Africa. This study describes histomorphometric findings of iliac crest bone biopsies and serum biochemical markers of iron overload and of alcohol abuse and ascorbic acid levels in 50 black patients with FNFs (29 M, 21 F), age 62 years (40–95) years (median [min-max]), and in age- and gender-matched black controls. We found evidence of iron overload in 88% of patients and elevated markers of alcohol abuse in 72%. Significant correlations between markers of iron overload and of alcohol abuse reflect a close association between the two toxins. Patients had higher levels of iron markers, i.e., siderin deposits in bone marrow (P < 0.0001), chemical non-heme bone iron (P = 0.012), and serum ferritin (P = 0.017) than controls did. Leukocyte ascorbic acid levels were lower (P = 0.0008) than in controls. The alcohol marker mean red blood cell volume was elevated (P = 0.002) but not liver enzymes or uric acid. Bone volume, trabecular thickness, and trabecular number were lower, and trabecular separation was greater in patients than in controls, all at P < 0.0005; volume, surface, and thickness of osteoid were lower and eroded surface was greater, all at P < 0.0001. There was no osteomalacia. Ascorbic acid deficiency accounted significantly for decrease in bone volume and trabecular number, and increase in trabecular separation, osteoid surface, and eroded surface; iron overload accounted for a reduction in mineral apposition rate. Alcohol markers correlated negatively with osteoblast surface and positively with eroded surface. Relative to reported data in white FNF patients, the osteoporosis was more severe, showed lower osteoid variables and greater eroded surface; FNFs occurred 12 years earlier and were more common among men. We conclude that the osteoporosis underlying FNFs in black Africans is severe, with marked uncoupling of resorption and formation in favor of resorption. All three factors—ascorbic acid deficiency, iron overload, and alcohol abuse—contributed to the osteoporosis, in that order.


Siderosis Ascorbic acid deficiency Alcohol abuse Femoral neck fracture Bone histomorphometry